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Jersey Through History: Cooper Gristmill (Black River Park)

On the edge of the Black River in Chester, Morris County, sits a 194-year-old gristmill. Though the current Cooper Gristmill was built in 1826, the original mill of this location dates back even further. In this edition of Jersey Through History, we visit Black River County Park to learn more about this storied place.

The mill’s history begins with Isaiah Younglove. In the 1760s, Younglove began milling flour, operating right beside the Black River for two decades. However, in 1788, Younglove sold his operation to Elias Howell; over the next 37 years, the mill continued to change hands multiple times.

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Cooper Gristmill Gets its Name

In 1825, Chester-native Nathan Cooper purchased the original mill and nearby land for $750. Within a year, the retired general built a new mill on the property to replace the original. Throughout the next few decades, Cooper Gristmill ground wheat, corn, and other grains. Its powerful machinery, with aid from the Black River, could grind up to 10 tons of grain per day.

After Cooper’s death in 1834, his nephew Nathan A. Cooper took over the mill. The new owner of Cooper Gristmill soon swapped out the two original waterwheels for more efficient modern turbines. Even after Nathan A.’s death in 1879, the mill stayed within the family, remaining in operation into the 20th century.

Cooper Gristmill Exterior

The Morris County Park Commission acquired the property in 1973, hoping to preserve the site; three years later, in November 1976, Cooper Gristmill joined the National Register of Historical Places. By October 1978, the mill was open to the public, serving as an important landmark for Morris County. Instrumental in producing ground wheat and other grains, Cooper Gristmill stands as one of a kind in the Garden State.

During the early 2000s, Cooper Gristmill received a few upgrades. The mill now uses an all-steel waterwheel to produce stone-ground cornmeal and flour. You can buy these items during your visit to help support the mill’s operation.

Cooper Gristmill Waterwheel

Still Grinding Away Today

Cooper Gristmill sits right on New Jersey Route 24 in Chester Township. The 14-acre park that surrounds it is ideal for picnics, hiking, and day trips with family and friends. In fact, it’s a short distance from Half Moon Falls and several other great landmarks. The park is open daily from sunrise to sunset, except during hunting season (December through January). The mill’s visitors center is also a wonderful resource for learning facts about the area.

Cooper Gristmill also offers a 45-minute guided tour of the mill. Guests can walk the grounds with a master miller to learn about the mill’s past and present operations. They also host frequent special events during the spring and summer seasons. You can click here to learn more about the mill and upcoming events at Morris County Parks.

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All Photos: © Patrick Lombardi / Best of NJ